By Edwin Taylor, MD
Sleep is sometimes the one precious thing that eludes us from time to time. For some, lack of sleep is a frustrating, constant reality. When we do not get enough sleep, or quality sleep, it can greatly affect our daily lives. From tossing and turning during the night, to the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep, our bodies suffer from bouts of drowsiness during the day, irritability, depression, or other illnesses. Instead of immediately reaching for a sleep aid, there are plenty of natural and practical ways to help you get that good night’s sleep.
First, maintain a regular bedtime schedule. Go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. This strengthens the sleep/wake cycle and can make falling asleep easier at night. Prepare your body for sleep by having a routine before going to bed. This can include soaking in a hot bath or hot tub, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Stay away from bright lights (including laptops, e-readers, and cell phones), which can cause excitement, stress, or anxiety, and subsequently make it difficult to fall asleep, get solid and deep sleep, or remain asleep. Avoiding e-readers, cell phones, computers and television close to bedtime will also aid in preparing your body to go to sleep.
Only use your bedroom for sleep and sex. Remove work materials, computers, and televisions from your sleeping environment. When such distractions are removed, the association between your body/mind with bed and sleep is greatly strengthened.
Create a comfortable sleep environment that is dark, quiet, cool, along with being attractive and inviting for sleep. Check your room for noise or other distractions, including a partner’s snoring. Consider using blackout curtains or eye shades if your room is too light. Ear plugs and white noise machines can help with unavoidable outside noise, as well as humidifiers for dry weather or fans to cool you down. You can also make a comfortable sleep environment by ensuring that your mattress is comfortable and supportive. (The life expectancy of most mattresses is 9-10 years.) Use sheets that are soft, along with comfortable pillows. Keep your room free of allergens and remove objects that may cause you to slip or fall if you have to get up during the night. The presence of pets in the bed with you is overlooked as a cause for disrupted sleep. Aromatherapy is beneficial at times such as using a lavender or chamomile scented spray on the sheets and pillows.
WHAT’S FOR DINNER?
Another way to help get a better night’s sleep is to watch when and what you have for dinner. Finish eating at least 2-3 hours before your regular bedtime. Eating or drinking too much before bed could make you less comfortable when settling down to go to sleep. Avoid heavy meals and spicy food, which can cause heartburn and discomfort during the night. Eating a night time snack, such as peanut butter, will help keep hunger pangs at bay during the night. Foods rich in tryptophan help you sleep, as it helps the body make niacin (a B vitamin) that is important for digestion, skin and nerves, and in producing serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain that helps create a feeling of well-being and relaxation. It is also used to make melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep and wake cycles.
PUT DOWN THE COFFEE
It is best to avoid caffeine close to bedtime. Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it can produce an alerting effect in your body. Caffeine products to avoid before bedtime include coffee, tea, colas, and chocolate. These items remain in the body, on average, from 3 to 5 hours, but can affect some people up to 12 hours after consumption! In addition to reducing or eliminating caffeine intake before bed, it is also a good idea to reduce your alcohol consumption. Although most people think alcohol is a sedative, it actually disrupts sleep, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night, leads to restless sleep patterns, and prevents REM sleep.
Regular exercise can help relieve daily tension, making it easier to fall asleep and contributes to sounder sleep. But make sure you exercise regularly, as sporadic exercise may make falling asleep more difficult. It is also best not to exercise right before going to bed. When we exercise, our body temperature rises and may take up to 6 hours for it to drop. A cooler body temperature is associated with the onset of sleep, and makes falling asleep much easier.
PUT IT OUT
Studies have shown that smokers may take longer to fall asleep and wake up more often during the night. If you haven't already, consider not smoking as a benefit to your overall health and quality of sleep.
TALK TO YOUR DOC
If you do have issues falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up too early, talk to your doctor. Sleep disorders, depression, and anxiety can lead to poor sleep and are best evaluated by your doctor.
Sleep…good sleep…is an essential part of our daily lives. By having good sleep hygiene, you can improve your sleep quality in addition to your overall health and wellness. Be good to your body and get better sleep!
Dr. Edwin Taylor earned a Bachelor of Arts in Biology at the University of New Orleans after serving 8 years enlisted in the United States Navy. He attended medical school at the Louisiana State University School of Health Sciences in Shreveport, Louisiana and family practice residency at the Naval Hospital Pensacola, Florida. He served 15 years in the Navy after overseas tours in Okinawa, Japan and Italy and various subsequent deployments. A 13 month veteran of the war in Iraq, Dr. Taylor is board certified by the American Board of Family Medicine and is bilingual and bicultural in Spanish. He is in private practice at Healthcare Associates of McKinney. For more information, visit HCATEXAS.us or call (972) 268-9383.